Artist and Lecturer
NCAD FIELD emerged out of dual needs in 2020: as a mode of outdoor third-level pedagogy, which enabled face-to-face contact during the pandemic; and also to introduce critical ecological thought and action into the college’s art and design curricula.
Nested in the suite of Studio+ courses offered in the third year of undergraduate study at NCAD,1 FIELD is unique in an Irish third-level context, in that more than 80% of the programme is delivered outdoors. Coursework is responsive and grafted onto seasonal time. Students have the opportunity to experience all four seasons in the FIELD through seminars, workshops, and a programme of critical texts that have been carefully assembled in response to site, context, and season.
Each semester unfolds with an initial six weeks of ‘entanglement’ or led coursework, to generate common ground and frames of reference. In the spring-summer semester just past, this included: Guerrilla Grafting (after Margaretha Haughwout and Seoidín O’Sullivan); Broken World Thinking & Repair (after Mierle Laderman Ukeles); Soil Time: The Pace of Ecological Care (after Maria Puig De La Bellacasa); Tree Communities (in collaboration with artist Steven Doody and the research project, NovelEco2); The Commons, Hospitality & The Hungry Months (after Silvia Federici, as part of the SpaceX Symposium at NCAD3); and finally in week six, Seedsharing for the Earthbound (with the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and the Butler Gallery4).
After this eclectic mix of encounter, students move into a more self-directed ‘correspondence’ phase, from which they generate their own work and research with a view towards creating twenty-first-century ‘naturecultures’.5 An ultimate outcome of coursework is that students ‘common’ their knowledge through choreographing and programming a whole day in the FIELD.
The remarkable and unique site for all of this activity is the FIELD itself. Located beside the college, the site has evolved over the last 20 years from being a derelict carpark to being remediated and ‘guerrilla composted’. A committed voluntary force of students and local volunteers, under the visionary lead of retired businessman, Tony Lowth, undertook this work.6 The space became a thriving site of urban horticulture before falling into disuse. The removal of regular human presence, accelerated by the lockdown, led to a remarkable ‘rewilding’ of the site. The teeming biodiversity of the site today sees its reappraisal not as ‘brown field’, which speaks to a language of development, but as a Novel Ecology.7
FIELD students are asked to contend with this dynamic intersection of human and non-human worlds, attaining a new-found curiosity, resilience and creativity to consider some of the most pressing issues of our century.
Gareth Kennedy is an artist and lecturer in Sculpture and Expanded Practice at the National College of Art and Design. Since 2020, he is lead coordinator on NCAD FIELD.
1 Other Studio+ courses include: Microstudios, D8 Neighbourhood Residency, Videolab, Visual Culture, Art with Health and Wellbeing, Drawing: Analysis and Synthesis, and Making Materiality. Art and Design students step out of established disciplines to apply themselves to context-specific and bespoke learning experiences that suit their particular skills and ambitions.
2 NovelEco is a five-year European Research Council (ERC) research project led by Professor Marcus Collier (School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin). The aim of NovelEco is to explore novel ecosystem theory as a bridging concept and a conduit for rewilding urban society (noveleco.eu).
3 Commoning and Radical Care, A SPACEX RISE Symposium, NCAD, March 2023 (ncad.ie).
4 See Butler Gallery’s annual commission, The Soil Project (butlergallery.ie)
5 Natureculture is a synthesis of nature and culture that recognises their inseparability in ecological relationships which are both biophysically and socially formed. Cultural production here seeks to deconstruct the classic nature-culture dichotomy, inherited from western Enlightenment thought.
6 A short film on the remarkable work of Tony Lowth, titled Our Mountain (2016) and produced by The Perennial Plate, is available on vimeo.com. This short film is testimony to Homo sapiens’ ability to arrest organic material flows and make soil – the bedrock of complex terrestrial life – rather than just deplete it.
7 Novel Ecology refers to a place where, by virtue of human influence, the future environment that arises is unlike any ecological environment we experience today, or those that prevailed historically. With thanks to friends and collaborators at NovelEco, who introduced this concept to the course.